Having been encouraged to leave England by my mother’s sister and her family, we joined them in Johannesburg in 1958, having sailed on the Cape Town Castle from Southampton. It was on that ship that I was to meet my husband-to-be. When we docked in Cape Town, we parted sadly, and he went on to Rhodesia while me and my parents got a lift to Johannesburg with a fellow passenger we had befriended. The drive through the seemingly endless, monotonous Karoo was quite something. The road stretched for mile upon mile in a straight line, the only scenery flat fields full of sheep, and we didn’t need to count them to get sent to sleep. The heat and the monotony were soporific. Our driver friend at one time did nod off himself, and swerved dangerously, waking to our yells and screams. On the way he told us tales of how dangerous it was to live in Johannesburg; we would learn of muggings, murders, stabbings, burglary and the like, and opened the cubbyhole to reveal the pistol he always carried. We began to wonder what we had let ourselves in for.
We arrived at my cousin’s beautiful house on the top of a ridge in Kensington and began the process of finding our feet and employment.
I found the culture quite strange and discovered, as a young woman of 19 that I could not go to a cinema, or a dance or even a house party without a partner, and if I had not been asked by a boy, I had to do the asking myself, which quite went against the grain. In England I had been quite free to go and do anything by myself. All the single girls at work would sit during lunch break busy embroidering chairback covers, tablecloths and so on, which were to go into their kists (bottom drawer) in anticipation of their wedding day, (never mind the fact that some didn’t even have a boyfriend at that stage), while I sat reading a book. This was frowned upon and I was asked why I was not doing the same. So I purchased some embroidery silks and a cloth outlined with a pattern of flowers and joined them in this pursuit, just to fit in, really. One day as I sat sewing, one of the girls asked to see the back of my work. I turned it over to reveal the knots and the silk threads weaving all over the place, the sight of which was greeted with shock. I was admonished, and told that the back had to look the same as the front! I never achieved this perfection.
On the way home from work my friend and I would walk to the bus stop but on the way we always called in at a famous shop on Eloff Street, and pretend we were interested in buying a hat. We would try these elaborate and sometimes huge hats on and fall about laughing, expecting to be evicted at any moment from this very posh shop.
Every day, almost without fail, at about four in the afternoon, the sky would darken, the heat and humidity would build up, and we would experience the most stunning electric storms. Great claps of thunder and the rain lashing down. It was so exhilerating and refreshing.
In the meantime, the man I fell in love with on the ship was exchanging letters with me regularly and he arranged to drive down to Johannesburg to see me. The upshot of that was that I agreed to marry him in the following April, and he returned to Rhodesia until then.
Our wedding was held in Parktown North, we honeymooned at the coast in Natal, and after saying goodbye to my parents, we loaded up Peter’s landrover with our wedding gifts, and headed off to the Rhodesian bush where he worked as a Tsetse Field Officer.
The journey to the bush and his job was also very interesting!